PUA program extended to June 2024

Leila Haveia Fleming Staffler

Leila Haveia Fleming Staffler

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program has been extended another year—to June 2024, according to acting Labor secretary Leila Staffler.

This does not mean, however, that applications can still be submitted. Staffler explained in an interview that this only allots the CNMI another year to adjudicate, process, and pay out claims submitted before the December 2021 deadline.

“PUA has been granted an extension until June 2024 so we will continue pay outs for eligible claimants up until the last person has received payment,” she said.

Staffler stated that, as of press time, a total of 2,500 individuals are still awaiting benefits.

“There is a total of about 2,500 people waiting. About 1,000 are still awaiting adjudication and 1,500 are waiting on the benefit payment control so this could be because of overpayment decisions made in the past,” she said.

Despite this, Staffler assures the community that the funds remain with DOL and they will make sure that everyone who is eligible will get their benefits.

“I don’t have the exact [amount] but the remaining balance is there. I can assure everyone that that money was not touched by the former administration. The PUA money is there, I have made sure with my team. I want to give everyone hope that we are going to continue to process these claims and applications until we’ve gone through them all. Everyone who is waiting will be addressed,” Staffler said.

She is also asking for the community’s patience as another delay is expected with the program’s upcoming relocation.

“With all the issues with [the American Rescue Plan Act], we are in the process of relocating so that we can save money on rent. So there will be a short pause in processing. It will be a couple of days so we can ensure we are moving everything critically,” she said.

Staffler noted that since taking over the program earlier this month, she has come to understand the program and now understands what caused the delay in payouts earlier on

“I can definitely say that the program has had a growing team and they have done an excellent job of looking at how to correct many of the issues people have been complaining about. There was a lot of issues with maintaining active personnel in the early stages of the program. It was very hard for PUA as it was limited employment and adjudicators had to be renewed every three months. It was not a long-term job, so a lot of people resigned. So there were a lot of cracks and documents got lost. Also, when adjudicators resign, you’re essentially losing their knowledge of particular cases, so whoever takes up that case next needs to start from the very beginning. It’s a really arduous process. That was where a lot of the delays were seen and it made a lot of people upset. But when I came in and got to see why things are the way they are, I can fully understand both sides and why there was a lot of hardships,” she stated.

Kimberly Bautista Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Bautista Esmores has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.
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